Charging the Confederate Guns
By 7 a.m. on June 9, Brig. Gen. John Buford had his Union troops in position. Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames Federal brigade of infantry straddled the Beverly Ford Road. To Ames' left (where the airport is now) was the 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by Col. Thomas Devin. The Reserve Cavalry Brigade was on Ames' right. Several batteries of artillery supported the Federals.
Buford decided to test the strength of the Confederate position near St. James Church. He ordered forward several regiments of his Reserve Brigade: the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (only 5 companies strong), the 6th U.S. Cavalry, and the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Gen. Pleasonton, however, diverted the 2nd for another missions before the 6th Pennsylvania charged.
"Never rode troopers more gallantly," wrote a Confederate artillery captain whose battery opened fire on the Union troopers as they crossed the field. Sabers flashed in the sun, cannon roared, and thousands of hooves pounded the grass. The Confederates poured cannister and carbine fire into the ranks of the Pennsylvanians as mounted Southerners waited behind the line of cannon. With textbook discipline and uncommon valor, the Union regiment surged across the open ground towards 16 Confederate fieldpieces.
The Pennsylvanians penetrated the line of guns but were repulsed by the waiting Confederate cavalry. The Federal horsemen retired to their original position "as they came, with ranks well closed up," noted an admiring Confederate. Nonetheless, after years of criticism, the Union cavalry had finally displayed the skill and discipline needed to match their Southern opponents.
Buford realized his foes at St. James Church were strongly posted. He left four cavalry and two infantry regiments behind to hold against Confederate attacks and to guard the vital crossing at Beverly Ford. He then swung his remaining men northward to work around the Confederate left flank. The Union force would soon meet opposition again on the fields of the Cunningham and Green Farms.
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